Inthe years following the Second World War, understandably, probing questionsregarding Germany’s recent past were mostly ignored. Public visions of their national past were largelyovershadowed by the fascist regime, their violence andresulting surrender. In the post-war years Germany struggled to come to termswith their country’s devastation but the politics and culture of the late 1950sand early 1960s were to confront this order.
Cinema was to play its part in thereaction to the upheavals and disorder caused to their country and their society. German ?lm was hampered after the Second World War, as Rentschler noted,’Goebbels’s policies and Allied interventions in equal measure would bearresponsibility for the sorry state of post-war German ?lm culture, itsundeniable local and limited character’ (Rentschler, ‘Germany: Nazism andafter, p.381). At the end of war thewestern Allies had increased their effort to re-educate and ‘denazify’ theGerman people. American films wereemployed as an effective way of distributing ideas of freedom, democracy andcapitalist enterprise. This programmeled to American distributors having a stranglehold the German ?lm industry.
The earliest home-grown post-war productions inGermany were termed Trümmerfilm (‘rubble film’). Thesefilms primarily reflected life in the devastated Germany, with its critical and difficult subject matter. The films provided an initial reaction to theevents of the Nazi period to the extent of displaying documentary footage fromliberated concentration camps.
Wolfgang Staudte’s Die Mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers Are Among Us)(1946) was the ?rst post-war German ?lm to address the immediate past,presenting the sense of the social dislocation in the aftermath of war, callsfor justice and uncertainty about the present. However by the 1950s this attempt to tackleGermany’s recent history was disappearing and the role of film moved toentertainment. The defining genre of theperiod was most well summed up by Heimatfilm (‘homeland film’), which portrayedmorally simplistic, romantic clichéd tales of love and family set calm rural locations. The films showed an escape from the drudgery of day-to-day life and dodged the recent history of war orexisting concerns about post-war reconstruction.
In 1962 against this background, a new generation of Germanfilmmakers signed the Oberhausen Manifesto openly declaring the desire to breakwith what was termed ‘papas kino’ topave the way a new film language in a subsidized, non-commercial ‘New GermanCinema’. For these young, innovative,and politically radical directors the sober standards of ‘old cinema’ outputwas tainted and a deliberate denial of the realities of contemporary Germanlife. Their intention was to produceindependent and artistically challenging short political films that educatedthe people on modern-day issues; the materialism of post-war society, themorality of the bourgeoisie, and the moral disaster of the Nazi legacy’ (Flinn,2004). For many the new films were arepresenting to the outside world that the country was attempting to come toterms with its history, and that the new Germany was different from the Nazistate. Most importantly, the directors showed contempt towards the philosophyof ‘artistry’ and ‘entertainment’. They wanted their films to provide audienceswith a current of philosophical notions to confront the established order. Howeverthe movement’s anti-authoritarian tone did not find favor with the majority of audiences. However, the internal discussion of German history now seemed readyto be debated.
German ‘?lmmakers and their audiences felt able to deal withrepresentations of their own country’ (Kaes, 1997). In Kluge’s Yesterday Girl (1966) the main character Anita, struggles in theabsence of social and material stability. Kluge film supports the idea that Germany has a catastrophic and sadhistory; an implicit truth that was shaping Germany’s unresolved post-warunderstanding.
In Aguirre,Wrath of God (1972) Herzog presents a takeoff of colonialism. The film offers theviewer a portrait of obsession and madness, drawing parallels with Germany’s fascist past. The search for riches and pursuit of power prove to be a false,unattainable fantasy similarto Hitler’s own deluded ambitions. Whistthe ?rst new post-war ?lmmakers of the New German Cinema took theirinspirations and concerns more from the recent past, other ?lmmakers werebecoming interested in a critical investigation of contemporary Germanhistory.
The New German Cinema of thelate 1960s and 1970s was progressive in its outlook with a view on the currentand future political developments. A collaborative effort of nine ?lmmakers including Fassbinder,Herzog, and Wenders went towards the creation of the New German Cinema. Theywanted to produce smaller, more independent and artistic films to exploremodern Germany (Schlöndorff and von Trotta’s The Lost Honor of Katherine Blum) and to tackle the Nazi past (Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz andSchlöndorff’s The Tin Drum). Oneparticular film Deutschland imHerbst/Germany in Autumn (1978), was a film that challenged Germans to rememberand deal with the connection between the Federal Republic and Nazi Germany. Thefilm was part of a backlash against the new Federal Republic of Germany. One ofthe contributors, Fassbinder, brought all the elements together ofcommemoration and tackling the past of Germany’s post-war history and hisassessment of the beginning of the Federal Republic. Elsaesser states thatFassbinder had ‘an urge to document the nation’s life on the grand scale’ (Elsaesser,1996) and his trilogy ‘BRD’ (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) provided a criticalview of the political status quo and a worrying sense of continuity. The film recognized that the new Germany was stilldeeply entangled in its fascist past.
Fassbinder usedthe film The Marriage of Maria Braun(1978) to symbolicallyrepresent the problems of the early years of the Federal Republic. The film tells a storyabout a woman picking herself up from the lows of her life and putting asideher morality in her attempt to survive the dif?cult post-war years and achieve materialwealth.Fassbinder uses thefilm as a symbolic attack on Germany’s desperation to forget its past andridicules the revitalization economic programme duringthe 1950s. The film depicts an abusive and emotionally empty world of materialism. The filmis a human metaphor, she fails to lookto German culture to support its renewal but in the search for success, she becomessomeone else.
It is as though these German ?lmmakers felt that Germany had soldits soul with overzealous ‘Americanisation’. The discussionof the post-war reconstruction and the long-term effect of America’s involvement in Germany, and theaddressing of its Nazi past through a metaphor was to become a familiar themein German film. The post-war national cinema of Germany tackled the deep concernswith questions of their troubled national identity. The ?lmmakers of the NewGerman Cinema explored the relationship of historical, cultural, social, and politicalissues through a process of remembrance. Their films were a product of the way in which concerns within Germansociety shifted during the 1960s and 1970s. They raised important questionsabout their country’s self-understanding in the post-war era and discussed thepast, not as a tradition to be preserved, but as a place for examination.
NewGerman Cinema had brought together directors who shared a political conviction butwho were artistically distinct with different interests, and each one had theirown style that were individual to their own films. The methods of the filmsproduced in New German Cinema were artistic unalike but they shared anexamination of German history in a very similar way.